In May, an image was posted on social media, in which members of the ‘Ambazonia Defence Forces’, a secessionist militant group conducting an insurgency in the Anglophone region of Cameroon, purportedly displayed newly acquired firearms. The ADF (not to be confused with the Allied Democratic Forces rebel group operating in the DRC and Uganda) is one of several militant groups participating in a conflict that has, in the last few years, rapidly grown in intensity – resulting in numerous atrocities, and the displacement of thousands of people. Notably, the Norwegian Refugee Council recently rated it as the most neglected displacement crisis in the world, in its annual list.
The following is both an imagery analysis, and an example exercise for imagery analyses. This quick analysis of a relatively simplistic image results in a surprising amount of information and leads, and is a good teachable example of relatively easily exploitable, fruitful, open source intelligence analysis.
As an aside, here is the rough formulation of a workflow for imagery analysis of this sort:
- Identify, attribute, verify source.
- Look for variants/linked imagery/linked information/improved resolutions.
- Content analysis.
- Context analysis.
ADF fighters wear uniforms embellished with the Ambazonian flag. A number of AK's and shot guns. Probably the best equipped rebel unit we have seen? #Cameroon #Ambazonia pic.twitter.com/fFvWosjmd1
— Gareth Browne (@BrowneGareth) May 24, 2019
No further details are provided regarding source, date, or location of image. The image appears in other social media posts by pro-Ambazonia groups and figures. There is a vocal and surprisingly diverse collection of pro-Ambazonia social media actors, several based in Europe, who post an array of secessionist and anti-Biya content. These accounts offer substantial raw intelligence (including some of the material examined below) but will not be the subject of this analysis itself.
First brigade of the #Ambazonia Contender Force under the ADF whose political wing is the Ambazonia Governing Council. Cameroon separatist war keeps showing more signs of escalation as separatist fighters are getting more sophisticated weapons. @AsstSecStateAF @USEmbYaounde pic.twitter.com/zQ9nKFUpS3
— Africa Perspective (@watch_right) May 24, 2019
The image in question, shows a group of members of the Ambazonia Defence Forces. This (Cameroon-based) ADF is the military wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council, which plays a leading role in the secessionist insurgency in the Anglophone region of Cameroon, in what was, until 1961, Southern Cameroons. It is worth noting that the ADF is not the only separatist militant group that is active in Cameroon.
The men in the image wear varying degrees of uniform, and are displaying an assortment of firearms – described in some of the social media posts featuring the image as spoils of war or evidence of the expanding capabilities of the group. The image itself is clearly propaganda-directed, and should be treated as such – which is to say, the image ostensibly displays what the insurgents wish an audience to see. The man seated in the centre of the image appears to be ‘General Efang’, who was seemingly appointed as ‘Brigadier General’ of the ADF in December 2018.
Of interest in the image itself:
The uniforms worn by some of the members consist of a dozen MARPAT-styled sets of overalls, with matching caps and large Ambazonia flag velcro badges. The uniforms have not been seen in other imagery from the conflict, and are likely more of a status symbol than actual combat uniforms. No standardized footwear are visible in the picture, nor is any web-gear (or ammunition or other materiel). Of note: rubber Wellington boots appear to be a common choice of footwear seen in militant pictures taken during actual bush operations. The majority of persons in the image do not appear to be in uniform (some are shirtless) – which is occasionally seen in other imagery of militants. At least one child is present in the image, brandishing a weapon.
The firearms that are visible consist of at least six Kalashnikov rifles of various variants, three H&K G3A3 rifles, one unidentified bolt-action rifle, several pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns, and two pistols. At least one home-made revolver-type shotgun is visible. Several other unidentified firearms are visible in the background – likely homemade or simplistic single-shot shotguns (referred to generally as hunting shotguns .
Of note: these firearms may represent a step up in the armament of this particular group – which might previously have relied on crude, homemade weapons – but this collection of firearms does not, by itself, represent much of a military threat or significant change in the equipment facing the Cameroonian military.
Brief firearms identification:
One of the AK variant rifle – probably a Norinco Type 56 clone, based on what appears to be a hooded front sight, and the possible fittings of a now-missing folding bayonet. Interestingly, the weapon is on safe, and the man handling it is very studiously keeping his finger off the trigger. Trigger discipline is surprisingly good among all of the visible armed men. This may be a sign of some degree of modern/western training, but frankly is more likely a byproduct of exposure to “trigger discipline” as a part of posing with weapons.
Another AK-variant rifle – the only visible instance of two magazines taped together.
Another AK – this might be an AKM, judging by that slant cut muzzle brake and front sight shape.
The mystery bolt-action rifle may be a Lee-Enfield SMLE (most likely a No.4 variant), or possibly an Enfield M1917 or Pattern 14, or even a Springfield M1903 variant. Unfortunately, the rear sight is obscured. If it is a British rifle, it might date back to region’s time as a British protectorate. Alternatively, the rifle may have once belonged to a hunter or farmer. It appears that part of the wooden hand guard has been removed. Acquiring ammunition for it may be tricky.
A possible Benelli M3/M4 semi-automatic shotgun (note the pistol grip and rail). It is also possibly one of the many clones, such as a USSG ‘SAR Pump Action Special Purpose Shotgun’ (quite the name).
In this image we see another semi-automatic shotgun, a G3A3 and the AK with the taped magazines. In the background are the barrels of two more simplistic shotguns, and one possible FN FAL (more on that below).
In the centre of this image are two H&K G3A3 rifles, with a pair of pump action shotguns of indeterminate make behind them. Further back are more of those likely single-shot shotguns, and what looks to be Browning Auto-5 (or clone) in the hands of a man in camouflage (note the rectangular receiver and barely visible front bead sight). On the right of that, a child wearing a cap turned to the side brandishes what appears to be a home-made shotgun fed by some sort of revolver mechanism.
The man in the black shirt in the centre of this image is possibly carrying some variant of FN FAL (judging by what appears to be a carry handle, and a muzzle brake)
The initial image offers a few interesting details, but digging a little deeper into other ADF propaganda offers a few related images of the same ADF group, that are worth briefly examining.
First, imagery from a video published in May 2019 (but filmed at an unclear date), showing a familiar looking collection of small arms. It is not impossible that some of these are the exact same weapons, reused of posing in the main image.
Above we see a relatively good quality still image, showing a collection of small arms, this time with ammunition on display. It is probable that these are (some of) the same firearms scene in the other image (note the FAL fourth in line, following be three G3A3s, five AK-type rifles, and a collection of shotguns). New additions see here include a pair of Zastava M21s seen alongside an AKMS (with taped magazines). The Zastava’s are usually seen in the hands of the Cameroonian Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and appear to be evidence of captured weapons.
In an image captured from a video that was posted, displaying the same cache, a collection of what appear to be hand grenades are visible alongside the piles of loose rounds of ammunition.
The image quality is poor, so a positive identification of the ADF ‘grenades’ is unlikely, but it is notable that there are several grenades of similar shape and size, such as the Austrian ARGES (now Rheinmetall) HG 84, the Belgian MECAR M72/M73, and various Serbian and Yugoslav-origin M75 models. Rheinmetall Denel Munitions M15-variant grenades share the same design DNA. Again, these are likely captured from Cameroonian forces.
In a related case, covered in this impressively detailed report by Calibre Obscura, a collection of similar hand grenades seen in an Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) cache were identified as SplHGR-80 (made by Dynamit Nobel Wien). Speculatively, the grenades were seized from Cameroonian forces.
The plastic grenades appear to be Austrian hand grenades, the SHG-60 and SplHGR-80. Both made by the manufacturer DNW.
— bitch gobblet (@bitch_goblet) January 15, 2019
Considering that those Zastava M21s were likely captured from Cameroonian BIR, who, being an elite force, have previously received arms from various international sources, it is possible that the grenades seen in the ADF cache were similarly captured from Cameroonian forces.
Finally, the above image is taken from a recent meetup of ADF members (possibly related to the same video showing the collection of arms although the timelines are not clear). The man in the blue tracksuit, second from right is probably ‘General Efang’ aka ‘Big Number’, who was seen seated in the middle of the group of militants in the original image. To his right, with dreadlocks, is a man identified as ‘General Ayeke’, a deputy commander of another group known as the ‘Red Dragons’. There is a surprisingly dense narrative about Ayeke – a former BIR soldier who defected to the militants – which appears to have caused some splintering between the social media supporters of the ADF and of the Red Dragons and other Ambazonia figures. This meetup video was ostensibly posted as evidence that he had joined the ADF, as were other videos showing him and several of his men drinking with ADF members (including Efang). However, there is another narrative circulating that suggests Ayeke was actually abducted by the ADF, and forced to record a video expressing gratitude to them for rescuing him. All of this appears to have occurred some time between March and April 2019, seemingly shortly after Ayeke was nearly killed in a BIR raid on a Red Dragons camp. ‘General Ayeke’ appears to have been subsequently killed at some point in April 2019.